From the Times Picayune…
In this impromptu gang of friends, “Band Camp” was the oldest, at 26. He was taking his turn with a cardboard sign, appealing to the charitable instincts of drivers on Elysian Fields Avenue as they slowed for the red light at North Claiborne. A month from now, he would likely be doing the same thing in a different city with different people, bound together by their preference for hitching rides on freight trains and living on the margins of society.
It was an unusually warm morning in late December. The drinking had taken its toll, and a shirtless Band Camp staggered through traffic. Still, one driver tossed a $5 bill. Another unloaded a couple small bags of Sun Chips, to the delight of the others hanging out on the neutral ground.
They happily discussed the lunch they would buy once they collected enough cash. But they were also in mourning. Later Thursday afternoon, they would attend a memorial for the eight young people who perished in a fire in an abandoned 9th Ward warehouse two mornings earlier.
And on a more personal note:
One night a few years back, I was hanging out at Checkpoint Charlies in the Marigny, having a smoke and a drink and on stage was a guy doing his best with an acoustic guitar, but I think I was one of maybe five people in the place when in walked two kids. They slid up to the bartender and asked if they could play. Obviously, they were a couple of the “gutter punks” one sees on the streets, hanging out in the Quarter at night in Jackson Square, the Haight in San Francisco, the U-District in Seattle, Burnside in Portland, Peace Park in Madison or in so many other places across the country. The bartender shrugged and pointed at the guy on stage and the two kids waited for him to finish his song before asking if they could play a couple. He looked out at the empty bar and with a bemused expression said, “Sure, why not.”
One of the two kids, grinning now, ran to the door, signaled his friends outside and in walked six more kids carrying instruments. They quickly set up and began to play a raggedy song that was raw, and it was brilliant. By the time they had finished their third song the bar had almost filled with curious people, dancing, drinking and having a great time. The kids had a few CD’s for sale and I bought one.
I’m listening to it right now as I type this, and when I read about the fire…I wondered if any of those kids I saw that night were inside the squat.
Having been a social worker for the past many years, I’ve become somewhat familiar with the kids in the above mentioned towns. Many are troubled, many are not. Many are brilliant writers, musicians, activists and many are not. Many are living that life by choice and some don’t feel they have one. Some struggle with addictions and many don’t. Doing what I do, I’ve heard all the disparaging comments thrown their way over the years and then some, by a lot of people out there who want to dismiss them as a nuisance rather than accept their choice in lifestyle or offer help if they are looking for it, and that’s too bad. Some of those kids have the courage to reach for a life more free than most anyone else who typically reads the morning paper, and sometimes they suffer the hard nights of their choices, just like we all do.
And sometimes, those nights are harder than anyone could have imagined.
For those that have passed…RIP.
For those that knew them…I’m sorry for your loss and I wish you the best – with tolerance, equality and mutual aid…